Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Who Cares?!

It’s time to bury the glass half-full/half-empty metaphor. Here is the truth of it: If you are filling a glass, when you get to the halfway mark, the glass is half full. If you are emptying a glass, either by drinking it or pouring it out, when you get to the halfway mark, the glass is half empty. The amount of liquid in a drinking glass is an example of action not perception. And you know the truth of this. If I tell you a waitperson brought a bottle of wine and two glasses to the table and that a woman held out a hand when her glass was half full, you immediately presume the server had been filling the glass. If I tell you a waitperson brought two glasses of wine to the table and that a woman waited until her glass was half empty to begin to place her order, you immediately presume she’d been drinking the wine. In neither case does the partial glass of liquid leave you with a perception of optimism or pessimism. It’s merely a result of the action.

Even if it were a matter of perception, why is a “glass half-full kind of guy” considered to be a more upbeat, positive person than a “glass half-empty kind of guy”? Take for example a glass of very rare wine, so rare these are the last few ounces of its kind. While you are savoring every sip, delighting that half of a glass still remains, you can at the same time be experiencing the bittersweet knowledge that this glass of precious liquid is half empty. Which makes every remaining taste even more precious. In this case, the amount of liquid in the glass has nothing to do with positive or negative feelings and everything to do with appreciation.

If a glass with liquid in it is sitting on a table unattended, is it half full or half empty? I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. You don’t know what it is, how long it has been there, who it belongs to, so it has no bearing on your state of mind. If this orphan glass is your responsibility to deal with or if you are a neat-freak who cannot bear to have unknown liquids lurking about, the glass is half empty because you will pour it out. Unless of course, you are so desperate for a drink you down the liquid despite its dubious origin. In which case, the glass is empty . . .  and so is your stomach after you throw up.

So please, let’s bury this particular metaphor in the graveyard of moribund cliches and be done with it.

17 Responses to “Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Who Cares?!”

  1. Mrs. This One Says:

    Your words are so true… personally when my glass becomes empty, I simply pour another one.


  2. AnnNoe Says:

    Well put and enjoyably explained.

  3. James Rafferty Says:

    Pat, the problem with cliches is that they do get old. I think people do know what you mean if you say “I’m a glass half full kind of guy,” but there are other ways to get the point across.

  4. Beth Says:

    I still think the expression is best understood in terms of a glass of milk and chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve got a lot of cookies left, a glass that’s not filled is half empty and it’s a sad sight indeed. If you’ve finished the cookies, a half glass of milk is perfect as a chaser. If you have no cookies at all, who cares how much milk is in the glass? It’s all about the cookies, isn’t it?

  5. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    While cliches can get old if over used, we tend to use analogies to describe things. Probably where most cliches came from.

    The phrase doesn’t bother me one way or another. It creates a picture and that works for me.

    Since I’m a glass half full sorta gal, I’m noticing my cup of coffee is half full which is disastrous since I still have half of my cinna bun to eat. Time for a refill.

  6. katsheridan Says:

    I like the phrase because it’s a simple, colorful shortcut description. For me it simply means that if the glass is half empty, the time is dwindling, but if it is half full, there is more deliciousness yet to come. And it’s so good to see you writing again that my cup runneth over.

  7. sputnik Says:

    Dear Pat,

    I can’t agree more. Right after my own heart! I thought I thought I was one big freak out there to be bothered by this cliche for years

    – Paul

  8. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    This made me smile. I’ve never thought much about the phrase… just that its use indicates a person’s optimistic or pessimistic worldview… a philosophical interpretation of reality. Now you’ve given me something more to think about. 🙂

  9. dellanioakes Says:

    Thank you! I’ve always felt this way but couldn’t have put it as well. Now that the half full/ empty issue is settled, what shall we discuss now? 🙂

  10. John Philipp Says:

    I’m just glad I have a glass.

  11. D7ana Says:

    I never thought much about this cliche before. If I encounter a half-full glass, I would move it away so it didn’t spill on me.

  12. The Yin-Yang of Friendship | Bertram's Blog Says:

    […] I don’t put much faith in being positive. I’m one of those people who don’t care whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. I simply drink what’s there and refill the glass if possible, which could be why I have no idea […]

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